My Pet Velociraptor

Surprise! Harry has a pet! It helps him get around town when he’s going to class or exploring Metz, and has a great, French-inspired nickname.

Posted by Harry

My new “pet!”

On my second day at Georgia Tech Lorraine, I adopted a pet velociraptor. As you can judge by the picture, it’s not really a velociraptor. Rather, it’s a play on words with the French word for bicycle “vélo.” When people back home ask me how I get around Metz and campus I just reply: “I just hop on my velociraptor and it takes me around.”

To be honest, I highly recommend getting yourself one of these (as both advice for current GTL students and future GTL students!). There are so many perks, including:

1) It makes getting from place to place much faster. A long, long time ago, humankind made simple machines to make life easier. The wheel is one of them.
2) Although somewhat aesthetically unpleasing, the basket is definitely very practical. It can hold your backpack, groceries from Cora, or a couple of baguettes from Paul.
3) Seven, that’s right, SEVEN gears to make the hills of France much easier to conquer.
4) Probably the most important, but you don’t have to do leg day if you’re biking because this way, every day is leg day. (I told all my friends here to get bikes because we all know that friends don’t let friends skip leg day).

On a more serious note, there is quite a hefty deposit to rent one of these but the monthly fee is extremely cheap. If you can cover the deposit, it will definitely pay it’s dividends.

Hope to catch you around on your pet “vélo-ciraptor”!

One Down, Sixteen To Go

Going abroad is all about experiencing new things, and the first week is a wild ride of emotions and new experiences. Read James’ account of his first week – from waking up the morning of his flight to meeting new friends and visiting local festivities!

Posted by James

It’s been quite an eventful first week here in Metz. Seven days and nights and I’ve already had a number of firsts. First time in Luxembourg, first European soccer game, first time using a train all by myself, first European festival, etc. However, before any of these could happen I had to travel over 4000 miles, board two planes, and go through two countries before even stepping foot in France.

Metz Cathedral
The centerpiece of Metz: its towering cathedral, nicknamed “The Lantern of God,” because it is the most luminous cathedral of France.

Saturday, August 20th

My alarm clock sounds: beep, beep, beep… As I look over to snooze, I read 6:00 A.M. and instantly jump out of bed both scared and excited. It hits me that today I’m going to France. All summer I’ve been bragging to my friends in Michigan about this, but at this moment it’s not pride I feel – it’s fear. I NEED TO PACK! This week I had to concentrate all my efforts on a physics final and wrapping up things at my internship. My plane leaves in 8 hours, and I have to take everything I need to live for four months to Europe. I feel my heart pounding, and I start sweating as I run downstairs and grab my suitcase. So begins the most frantic packing of my life. 3 hours later I sit down on my bed with a sigh, “I’m ready.” All I can recall about checking in and boarding the plane is a feeling of numbness. As I took off my shoes, and took out my computer for security I kept looking at my family, my mom and dad, and my brother, all just standing there smiling. As I collected my things and took one final look, time froze. I would not see them for over 4 months. I turned and slowly made my way to my gate.

Sunday, August 21st

As I stumble through Frankfurt International Airport and find my gate, the first onset of jetlag starts to set in. In a few hours I land in Luxembourg and await another GTL member’s flight. An hour later we are downtown in the middle of a summer festival. As we walk around and the sounds of French and German from outside conversations interrupt ours, I start to grasp the essence of GTL’s message. Immersion in a separate country does far more than allow you to experience culture. Five days later I finally understand!

Friday, August 26th

“Hey Clyde, what time are we going downtown?”

“The Last bus leaves at 9:40, I think?”

It’s been an odd first week filled with orientations and runs to CORA, the huge supermarket in Metz. A few friends and I are looking to blow off some steam, and experience some true French culture. As we’re waiting for the final bus, we receive a friendly surprise. A GTL grad student comes and sits down on the stop’s bench. Within minutes we’re deep in conversation as the bus arrives. His name is Peter, and he’s a nuclear engineer who has been living in Metz for the last 8 years. This is his last semester in France and he is heading downtown to meet some friends who also work at GTL.

We tag along and spend all evening with him. The night begins with the Mirabelle festival, an amazing display of local pride in Metz’s rare prune. A beautiful exhibit is held in the center of the city, next to the famous Metz Cathedral. A jazz band hovering above the ground provide the baseline to a group of acrobats and a singer who are tangling over the crowd by way of a crane.

The amazing performance in downtown Metz!

Throughout the night we talked to Peter and his friends about many things. Peter was able to describe a lot of distinct differences between the French and outsiders, not just Americans. For instance, a local cultural conflict between French of North African descent not assimilating into French culture. However, the largest takeaway from the night was a truly unique experience. The next morning we all agreed that had we not met Peter, or his friends Jeremy and Jacques, we never would have done anything similar. We experienced local music, food, conversation, etc. All while learning more about Metz and France.

First Impressions

Sometimes the best travels are the quiet ones – the ones where you can take in your surroundings without too much hustle and bustle. In “First Impressions,” Harry reflects on his arrival in France and Metz.

Posted by Harry

Left: Photo Courtesy of Patrick Morand; Right: Photo Courtesy of The Wine Guild of Charlottesville

I wish I had some wild story to tell about my journey to Metz and Georgia Tech Lorraine, but I don’t. Rather, I just took the shuttle (free!) that was provided by GTL from the Paris-Charles De Gaulle airport. Usually, I’m a person that sleeps on long bus rides like the 4-hour trip it takes between the two locations, but I didn’t. The reason why? I was blown away by the stunning views of the French countryside. It really was something else. Something about the hills that stretched on for miles (or kilometers, I should say) and the quaint little villages that we passed by just took my breath away. Even if the majority of the scenery was farmlands and fields, my eyes were locked outside nearly the entire time. The pictures you see above are some stock photos off of Google Images that I found, since the ones I took really don’t do it any justice.

Upon my arrival in the outskirts of Metz where GTL was, there was something specific that really stood out to me: the silence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like a ghost town-ish area we are in, but it was just very peaceful and it’s something I’ve really grown to enjoy. The walk from my dorm to school is no longer filled with the loud sounds of construction or the conversations of thousands of students, but just a relative quietness.

Even on my first day, the GTL experience has far exceeded my expectations.

Expect the Unexpected

Just like Morgan, you’ll “figure it out.”

Posted by Morgan

expect the

Before coming to Georgia Tech-Lorraine, I was fortunate enough to have traveled a lot. I traveled across the US; I traveled outside of the country; I traveled without my parents. In short, I wasn’t expecting that the GTL experience would be that hard, taxing, or new- just exciting. I was prepared. I was prepared for the travel, and my first year at Tech had prepared me for the classes. And yet somehow, after ten weeks in France, I am leaving with the realization that I wasn’t all that prepared. But that’s the thing about the GTL program. Nothing can really prepare you for the experiences, the experiences of unmatched fun, the experiences of studying till the wee hours of the night, the experiences of being so incredibly out of your comfort zone.

If only something had prepared me for my interesting adventure through Paris. My friend and I had reserved an apartment through airbnb, a familiar and trustworthy site, but I was excited that I had searched through all the places on my own and found the perfect place–no help–no guidance–just me. When we arrived at the airbnb, I was told the maid was going to bring me a key. I waited an hour until two men in a car pulled up and started speaking to me in French, and they wouldn’t leave (a sketchy situation to say the least). They kept pointing at their ignition key, but they did not look like the maid, Maimona, and they did not speak English, so I kept waiting. Next thing I know a half hour later the guys come back, hand me the key, and then walk off. It was the weirdest experience ever, and it left me wondering how safe this place really was. But my friend and I needed a place to sleep, so up the five flights of stairs we walked.

What met our eyes was one of the most charming apartments I had ever seen. It was stereotypical French, complete with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. Even with all of the commotion, I had done it. I had prepared for something, and gotten it right, albeit with a lot of anxiety and worry. I was not prepared for this type of situation. I was not prepared for this “experience,” and I don’t know if anything could have prepared me. That’s the thing about GTL though; just when you think you’ve seen it all–the horrifying thermo tests, the spill of toxic liquids in chem lab, the 90 degree plus heat of Atlanta–Tech likes to show you that you haven’t!  

Fortunately for myself, the rigorous planning and ensuing worrying died down at the end of the trip. If one hasn’t noticed, I am not a go with the flow kind of person. I plan everything by the minute and then have two backup plans. By the time my last trip came around, Grindelwald, Switzerland, I couldn’t plan any longer. I was tired, so about all I did was look up some train times and book a hostel.

I remember getting ready to board the train, and Tim saying, “Morgan, one of these trains requires a reservation…”

What left my mouth next was the most un-Morgan-like statement ever heard, “We’ll figure it out Tim.”

And we did. We figured it out as we went, and I left Switzerland with the realization that it was one of the most fun, memorable experiences of GTL yet.

I have the GTL program to thank for these experiences. I was not being hand-held through my trips, or taking easy elective classes. I was essentially being pushed out on my own and given free reign. Of course, there were those times that I wished I had a schedule designed for me on what trains and planes to take or what museums and tourist attractions to see at a particular time instead of Google searching on my iphone at the last minute, but I don’t think I would change any of those experiences- after all they do make the best stories.

Faculty Interview: Professor Simpkins

Professor Christopher Simpkin’s path has taken him from the Air Force to Georgia Tech, and this summer, to Georgia Tech-Lorraine.

MK-SimpkinsWhen I shuffled into my computer science 2316 class on the first day of the summer semester, I was not looking forward to the impending 10 weeks. There are some kids who just get computer science; it just clicks for them, and that’s great. But I am definitely not one of those kids. I am the kid that sits in front of my laptop, staring at the screen for an hour trying to debug code only to find that I named a variable incorrectly (something as simple as “doctors” instead of “doctor”). As you might presume, this does not bode well for my relationship with CS; we are not what you would call “sympatico.” Not to mention, my first ever CS professor’s voice had the same effect on me as Nyquil. It’s safe to say, I was not expecting much for my second CS class.

However, CS 2316 has been a nice surprise for me, not simply because of the topic, data manipulation,  but because of the professor. I mean, having a coding assignment that utilizes the themes and characters from Grey’s Anatomy is pretty awesome. Not to mention, having a student do a public dance in front of the class as punishment because his phone went off is hysterically entertaining.

Just recently, I decided it was time to sit down and talk to the professor who was responsible for my slowly improving relationship with computer science: Christopher Simpkins. I was able to learn how he got started in in the field, and believe me, it is pretty interesting… and a little unexpected.  

Professor Simpkins did not begin his career in computer science; actually, he began his career in the air force, attending the Air Force Academy. Clearly, this was quite a switch, a pilot to a computer science professor. He always knew that he wanted to go into a technical field though. Originally he thought he would end up somewhere like MIT or some other tech school, but when he and his father, a member of the air force himself, were watching an Air Force football game one day, he was asked the question if he had ever thought of attending the Air Force Academy.

That question started a long and tedious two year process of applying to the academy, which Simpkins was later accepted into. Realizing that it was the highest honor, he decided to attend the school and major in engineering.

After completing his academics, Simpkins began flying tankers, and even became the designated computer guru for his squadron. While he had originally planned to do a crossflow program to transition into being a fighter pilot, he soon realized that the air force life was not well suited for families. Having two small children, he wanted to be an involved father, so he switched his career path towards software engineering in Atlanta.

Still, having taught in the Air Force, Simpkins knew that his passion was in teaching, so he decided to go into academia. That’s when Simpkins found Georgia Tech. A great location, advanced engineers, and a high-class university, Georgia Tech became his new end goal. His experience with Georgia Tech graduates in the Air Force had provided him with a good idea of the type of people at Georgia Tech, and fortunately his expectations did not disappoint him when he became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Now, Simpkins is a computer science professor for one of the top universities in the country in his field. Just like that, he made the switch from the Air Force into academia. Clearly a dedicated and motivated individual, I asked Professor Simpkins for any advice he could give to students at Georgia Tech Lorraine:

“Pace yourself with the travel. You’re taking real classes; you have a real Georgia Tech workload. Travel is like another class.”

For Simpkins, he suggests spending those few two day weekends exploring Metz, catching up on sleep, and getting some studying done. He also suggests taking advantage of the small class sizes, i.e., “take advantage of the access to professors.” Office hours is one of his own biggest tools in teaching his students. There have been many a day when I have attended Professor SImpkins office hours, and soon enough it is like another small lecture class with multiple students asking questions and example problems ensuing. I can definitely say that taking his advice is worthwhile.

While Professor Simpkins loves teaching, he still takes time to travel on the weekends with his family who are spending the summer in Metz with him. A highlight of his trip was seeing the Paris Opera Ballet perform, Giselle. His wife, a former professional ballerina, loves Giselle and has clearly passed on her passion for the arts to her husband. I am sure that it was a nice break from the tedious grading of my CS class’ homework assignments (although I am pretty sure he has written code that basically performs the grading for him).

All in all, it’s pretty neat to know that Georgia Tech is enabling its students to learn from such interesting faculty members as Professor Simpkins. Now, if only I could learn how to fit all of my homework, studying, sleep time, cooking time, and traveling into one twenty four hour day.  

Prague, take two!

Revisiting a place you’ve been before can often be more relaxing than the first time around.

Last weekend when I sat down to figure out where I would go, I decided to revisit Prague. The city itself is amazingly beautiful and full of historical sites and attractions. While on the one hand I would like to travel to a new place every weekend, there were just too many places that I didn’t get to see during my last short visit. I also had a group of friends who were going to Prague that same weekend as well.

In my last blog post about Prague, I described how every place I traveled to in the city there were musicians. This hadn’t changed, and while last time I spent a lot of time wandering around the city, this time I had a plan and a list of places to visit.

On the top of my list was to visit the Clementinum which houses the National Library of the Czech Republic. It was also used as an astrological tower.


The library features bookcases from celling to floor, and a flat celling that is painted in such a way that it appears as if it is a vaulted ceiling.

I also got the opportunity to go to the chocolate museum and finally got a change to peruse the bohemian crystal shops and open markets in Prague.

I got many souvenirs for my family back home, and I really enjoyed shopping with friends while taking in the views of Prague.

Overall it was a relaxing weekend, without the rush that comes with squeezing in as many things into a single weekend. I truly recommend it, I needed a break but I didn’t want to sit in the dorms and this was a perfect way to have the best of both worlds.


Finals Week

Finals week at GTL can be just as stressful as in Atlanta, but somehow there are more smiling faces here in Metz.

Posted by Morgan


Finals week: the dreaded experience of taking tests students spent way too long studying for; zombie like students roam the halls; witnesses have reported seeing students collapse after testing.

This definition is a universal definition for most colleges, and a definition that I am sure Georgia Tech students know all too well.  So I am sure you’re wondering, how does it change for the study abroad experience?

Well, the experience here is still just as stressful and exhausting, but somehow I seem to see many more smiles at the GTL lounge this week than I did at the CULC, the major study spot in Atlanta, during finals week. Maybe it is because everyone is still on the travel high. Maybe it is because everyone is excited that it is almost time to go home. Or maybe it is just because of the small, tight knit community here at GTL.

As I wander through the lounge, content with the fact that I only have my French final to prepare for, I see laughing faces and group discussions. I wave to my friends and stop to say hi to some people. It’s a small and tight knit atmosphere, an atmosphere not easily found on the Atlanta campus.

Those who are not studying for their finals are either taking a break playing ping pong or working on group projects. Due to time crunches, final projects are a common replacement for final exams here at GTL which I can safely say is not necessarily better, just a trade off. Other students munch on their PAULS lunches, provided by the GTL staff to help us get through this tiring week.

Nonetheless, everyone is busy studying here. Many people actually refrained from traveling this past weekend to continue studying for their difficult exams, so it’s pretty clear that finals week is not all that different at GTL. Just maybe a smaller group of people still suffering through the miserable test week with some good friends. 


Undergraduate Research Student: Sarah Selim

Meet a student who managed to bend the rules a bit, landing herself an undergraduate research gig.

Posted by Morgan

MK-Selim2Studying abroad is hard for engineering students: the classes, the rigor, the balance with travel. At times it may seem that a Georgia Tech engineering student will never gain that exciting abroad experience. This is not the case for Sarah Selim though. A rising 3rd year in mechanical engineering, she always knew she wanted the study abroad experience, but she also knew that she wanted the undergraduate research experience as well. Fortunately, she found the answer in GTL.

For myself, I did not even know that undergraduate research existed at GTL. I figured that my only option was to come to Metz, take a couple classes, and spend my weekends traveling. The same was true for Sarah. But Sarah knew that she wanted to find a work abroad program for the summer and that the paperwork hassles that come along with working abroad are not exactly appealing, so she did a little digging into the research opportunities at GTL. While Sarah was aware that the research opportunities at GTL are usually only available for graduate students, she had the drive to convince them otherwise.

At first, she wasn’t sure if any professor would let her come work at GTL, but after multiple emails to different professors and GTL administration, she finally found a professor that was eager and willing to let her participate in undergraduate research. What a typical tech student- ambitious and motivated!

While her weekends do not fall on the same days as most GTL students (she only gets two day weekends and one three day weekend a month), she finds solace in the type of work she gets to take part in each day. Her project involves robotics research called non-destructive testing which uses a robot that moves along metal surfaces to detect if the surfaces have any defects. Most of her day to day work consists of cad modeling for the project, and because she works with three other graduate students, she is able to get feedback when needed.

So far, Sarah is loving her undergraduate research experience. She has hands on work in her chosen field which provides her with great experience for future endeavors. Sarah also mentioned the balance she receives as a result of working at GTL. She is able to work inside of her comfort zone, being surrounded by Georgia Tech students and faculty, but still be pushed a bit outside of her comfort zone while working in a foreign country, France. After talking with Sarah, it’s safe to say that I am a little jealous. While I’m taking tests on the different forms of “to have” in French, she gets to play with robots all day in the lab.

You might be wondering what kind of travel experience one can get while working abroad. Does one even get to travel? While Sarah’s busy schedule is definitely difficult to coordinate with her friends who are taking classes, she still manages to take short weekend trips and make the most of her time.

Her favorite place so far was Barcelona, mostly due to the fact that Gaudi’s stunning MK-Selim1architecture fills the city. While I find Gaudi’s work to be overt and eccentric, Sarah loved his style; “he created floors that weren’t even flat and he just kind of went for it!”. I might not understand Gaudi, but I understand why Sarah loves him so much. He took risks, was ambitious, and broke the mold, just as Sarah took a chance in searching out her undergraduate research at GTL. Well, clearly it paid off – for both Gaudi and Sarah.